23 Aug 2013

Drug testing in Jamaican sport: a cloudy response

Just how shoddy is dope testing in Jamaican sport?  The real problem is we don’t really know.  The Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) has finally got round to issuing a statement but it’s far from convincing.

It views “with deep concern utterances by various persons in the public sphere in their attempt to discredit the work of JADCO, its commissioners, the Government of Jamaica and the success of Jamaican athletes”.

Now a shambolic dope testing programme doesn’t mean athletes are cheating, it just means that if they are, it’s easier for them to not get caught.

Bear in mind several high profile Jamaican athletes – former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell and current 200m Olympic Champion Veronica Campbell Brown included – have recently tested positive for banned substances.


Assuming they aren’t false positives (their hearings start soon and they may yet contest the findings) this suggests JADCO aren’t entirely incompetent.

But consider the statistics – JADCO says between May 2009 and July 2013 it carried out 504 in-competition and 372 out-of-competition tests.

But during 2012 itself, according to the World Anti Doping Agency JADCO conducted just 106 – in or out of competition.

Their testers didn’t catch a single drugs cheat.  In the year leading up the Olympics the UK Anti Doping Agency caught 15 drugs cheats.  In the five months leading to the Olympics, UKAD conducted 1,877 tests.

In Jamaica – one.  A single test for a nation with the bulk of the world’s very best track and field athletes.

Not good enough.

How could this be? And what is the situation now?  Well – in Jamaica politics is everything.  Particularly in sport.  A new government was formed in December 2011.  And in Jamaica a new government means public bodies are re-staffed from top to bottom.  Except JADCO just didn’t get round to hiring people.

Paul Wright is an experienced JADCO doping control officer.  He told me that he, like former JADCO executive Renee Anne Shirley, kept firing warning shots.  Pleading with his bosses to fix up and get their house in order.

Tests were not being done – and the excuses deployed by senior management were, for want of a better word,  codswallop. Testing kits had expired?  No – they are sealed and should be sterile.

Not enough testing kits?  Borrow some.  Meanwhile the opportunity to establish their own athlete profiles using the new blood passport system was being wasted.

But the situation a year on?  He says it has improved “exponentially”.  He says he personally has conducted over 100 out of competition tests.  And JADCO needs to get its act together and tell the world they are on the job.

Because Jamaica’s exemplary reputation is at stake.

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